Monson: Jazz on the verge of a season in 3-D, maybe 4-D
NBA • Defense must be the thing that carries Utah in this rebuilding season
Published: October 30, 2013 08:58AM
Updated: February 14, 2014 11:36PM
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Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah Jazz power forward Derrick Favors (15) defending Atlanta Hawks guard Devin Harris (34) as the Utah Jazz host the Atlanta Hawks, NBA basketball Wednesday, February 27, 2013 in Salt Lake City.

“I play defense, first. That’s what I like to do. That’s what I want to do. Yeah, that’s important.” — Derrick Favors

There’s no other cliché in sports more one-eye blind than the old familiar: “Defense wins championships.” Whoever came up with that beauty probably couldn’t throw or catch or run or shoot or hit a ball of any shape worth a darn. It’s a half-truth. Nobody ever ascended to a championship without some offense.

Here’s a better cliché: “You don’t score, you don’t win.”

So, let’s go ahead and go halfsies on the notion and acknowledge that defense does have its important place, and it’s a place where the Jazz will try to set the foundation for their future this season. If they do, they’ll be partway home. Their version of the cliché in 2013-14: “Defense wins 30 games.”

That’s half the total they dream of one day getting.

At the dawn of their embarkation on their Season in 3-D — development, discovery and defense (throw in another, too: defeat) — the Jazz will stress defense because, at this point, they have to. It’s what they’ve got.

Asked what his expectations are for his team, Ty Corbin’s first words in response were “effort” and “defense.”

The young Jazz will lose a lot this time around, but they’ll also D-up better than they have in years. And, for them, for this particular group of youngsters, that’s a positive thing. It’s a step forward in a patient climb toward an eventual run, once all the parts are grown and acquired.

In recent seasons — back to the days of Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer and Paul Millsap and Mehmet Okur — the Jazz haven’t played stellar D. Even the 2006-07 team that won the Northwest Division and made it to the Western Conference finals lagged behind in defensive prowess, finishing just 17th in the league in average points allowed. The seasons following, they ended up 13th, 18th, 12th, 19th, 23rd and 16th. Their complementary offensive stats were higher ranked.

Two other defensive categories of note in the seasons since 2006-07: In total fouls committed, the Jazz ranked first, first, eighth, second, first, second and third; in opponents’ field-goal percentage, they edged toward 20th.

With the departure of four of their top five scorers from last year, some of whom fouled a lot — Paul Millsap — and some of whom wouldn’t know a defensive stand from a hula-hoop — Al Jefferson — the Jazz now will push that new emphasis hard. They will try to stop the other guys better.

That approach begins with Favors, who could end up, now that he’ll get his minutes, in the top handful of players around the league in blocked shots and rebounds. Mark that down right now because it will happen. Of Favors, Dennis Lindsey said to The Tribune’s Aaron Falk, “If he can be our Bill Russell, we’ll be very, very pleased.”

That might be taking it 10 steps too far, but we get the point.

Gordon Hayward can defend, Enes Kanter, though not a shot-blocker, can defend, if he stays out of foul trouble, Rudy Gobert, who is a shot-blocker, can defend, Alec Burks can defend, and we’ll find out about the rest. What we know is that Corbin is preaching the word big time.

“We have to defend,” he said. “We have to.”

That’s because the other end is a mystery. Hayward, along with Kanter, will be counted on as the Jazz’s primary scorers, but everyone will have to pitch in. On given nights, Favors will go off, as will Burks. Trey Burke, when he returns, will run the offense and spark some scoring. Brandon Rush could help from distance, once he recovers from injury.

If Favors ever grows and grooves his post moves, he’ll be an elite big.

In the Jazz’s specific case, it’s a better bet, for the time being, to stop the other guys from dusting the net than dusting it themselves. And as competitively crucial as it is — and entertaining to watch — to score the ball, appreciating defensive effort, even for those who loathe the defense-wins-this-and-that mantra, will have to do.

It might even be a gas, seeing the Jazz roll out their D and then trigger some transition basketball, getting up and down the court in a way that’s been talked about, in theory, in past years around here, but, in reality, been mostly idle chatter.

If there’s enough progress made through the Jazz’s Season in 3-D, in those first three D’s, maybe that fourth D won’t be as prevalent as a lot of people expect.

GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.